Today, we’re gonna learn how to make Story B mirror Story A.
First off, I’m not a die-hard South Park fan – I’ve probably watched three episodes in the last fifteen years but can you believe the show began its 21st season this week? One of the reasons for South Park’s longevity and freshness through 278 episodes is Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s mastery of storytelling.
Yep, this schtewpid offensive little cartoon is a masterclass in storytelling. One of the ways they achieve this is by ensuring their Story B mirrors Story A.
Most TV shows have an ABC story structure, but with a runtime of twenty-one minutes, the season 21 premiere, White People Renovating Houses only features only an A–Story and B-Story. And this episode is a gift-wrapped tutorial in how to make the Story B mirror Story A, but before we get to how to make YOUR Story B mirror Story A, let’s answer one question:
WHAT IS AN ABC STORY?
Listen up, white people! The A-Story is the main narrative and dramatic core of a movie or episode. Therefore, it must feature your main character(s) presented with a problem they must overcome… or, as Aaron Sorkin would say, Intention/Obstruction.
A-Stories are generally seen through the eyes of the protagonist. In police procedurals, this will be the main character(s) solving the case of the week… a murder in CSI, a monster of the week in The X-Files.
The B-Story is a parallel storyline (or “thread”) which can follow primary or secondary characters. Its job is to add depth and meaning. In a police procedural, it may be a detective’s home life (think Luther’s divorce) or it may provide a different perspective of events through different eyes. B-Stories are vital, if for no other reason than enabling you to cut away from the main story thread.
Sometimes called a runner, the C-Story can serve two purposes – it can provide light relief or take the form of ongoing series arcs which pay off further down the line. There can also be D, E and F-Stories and even A/A/A stories:
According to The Good Guys writer, Rick Muirragu, “an episode with A/A/A stories is an episode in which three characters have storylines that all have equal weight in the episode. No one story fills the episode; they all equally fill the episode.”
In Die Hard, the A-Story is obviously John McClane stopping the terrorists in the Nakatomi Building. The B-Story sees John trying to win back his estranged wife’s love – AND THAT’S WHAT THE FILM IS ACTUALLY ABOUT.
In taking on the terrorists, John confronts his demons, and learns to stop being a complete, self-serving dickwad by finally believing in something bigger than himself, i.e. saving the hostages . The C-Story is Sgt. Al Powell, the beat cop’s journey, plus the FBI’s bungled involvement.
ALWAYS HAVE YOUR STORY B MIRROR STORY A
Remember how film noir detectives would get two, seemingly unconnected new cases only to find out they were not just connected, THEY WERE THE SAME CASE?
Well, A-Stories and B-Stories are kinda like that.
South Park S21E01 doesn’t have a C-Story. We open with Story A with Cartman et al having fun and laughing their butts off instructing Amazon’s Alexa to say rude, childish words until they are interrupted by Cartman’s girlfriend. Heidi wants to talk about their relationship but Cartman gets angry and blames her for humiliating him in front of his friends.
Across town, in Story B, TV host, Randy is trying to help the community by renovating people’s houses and present his show, the perfectly realised “White People Renovating Houses”. Randy is interrupted by an angry mob of Confederate flag-waving white supremacists who are taking on the liberals by protesting their jobs being replaced by Amazon, Google Home and Siri.
Several scenes feature Heidi wanting to talk and resolve their problems. She even tells Cartman “we have to communicate to respect each other’s opinions,” and that he“wants to be heard but doesn’t want to listen,” but he never listens. He just interrupts, shouts over her and silences her like men have done to women for millenia. (Using Alexa is another neat added level of metaphor.)
You see, these two lines from Heidi could just as easily be uttered by Randy when dealing with the white nationalists. And hey fuckin’ presto – Randy and the white nationalists’ Story B perfectly mirrors Cartman and Heidi’s Story A. It’s like poetry, they rhyme.
In summary, when creating your B-Story, it must mirror and add depth to the themes that exist within your A-Story. If it doesn’t, then you’re gonna need to read more about ABC Stories and your script probably a needs a rewrite.
To learn how to make your Story B mirror Story A, use the flashbacks in Lost as a masterclass.
South Park continues next Tuesday, 19th September on Comedy Central.